Leave it to a pastor to write one of the best crisis response messages I’ve seen

December 18, 2009

My son-in-law who lives in Ballard (neighborhood of Seattle) sent me this link. It contains one of the best crisis response letters I’ve ever seen.

The situation: a church operated homeless shelter was the scene of a violent crime, one shelter guest stabbed another. The shelter operates in a friendly community. The degree of sensitivity and concern expressed by the pastor to the neighbors suggests that neighbors near the shelter may have been concerned about having a homeless shelter in the neighborhood and the impact on their safety. So, the stabbing was a serious crisis.

I’ll tell you a few things I like about this response, but I’d love to hear from you–whether you agree that it is as good as I say it is and what you like or don’t like about it.

1) Tone–It is clean, simple, straightforwad, never sappy, but conveys a great deal of sensitivity, concern for everyone involved, and appreciation for the responders.

2) Direct acknowledgment of their concerns–“we nevertheless deeply regret the disruption of our neighborhood security”

3) Granting neighbors their rights–“We affirm that, as neighbors, you have every right to a secure street.” He doesn’t go down the path of challenging this, even in-directly, by saying something that hey, these homeless people have rights, too. He just simply acknowledges their key concern and their right to that concern.

4) Places the incident in context–this is tricky, but beautifully handled: “this is the first incident of violence with a weapon in the ten years of our active ministry with the homeless.”  This heads off those who would say that it is a big risk because these things are happening all the time. Later in the letter he re-emphasizes this point by calling the incident
an anomaly.” Also he places the event in context of events outside of their control: “with this economic downturn, the streets are becoming more desperate and despairing.”

5) Explains what’s been done for neighborhood security: “As you know we have recently added a paid Security Officer that monitors our Saturday Soup kitchen.”

6) Takes advantage to explain (promote) their mission: “It is also a matter of moral concern: we acknowledge that feeding folks and housing folks is not enough. What is needed is transformation of character, and reorientation of desire, along with a restructuring of our economy.”

7) Seeks their support: “At Trinity we desire to move beyond charity into relational ministries of transformation. It is a long road, and difficult work. We acknowledge our dependence on your good will, and we take very seriously our responsibility to provide neighborhood tranquility.”

The other point that should not be missed is that he is not only sending that letter to neighbors but making certain the media (including new media such as the Ballard news website) got the information and distributed it. This may be the biggest lesson of all. I imagine there were those who said, “What!? Why not just let it go quietly? Why tell the whole world about this? Why alert people so directly to our primary vulnerability? Are you crazy?”

Crazy like a fox. If I was a neighbor and got that letter, I’d be tempted to call them and ask if I could volunteer.

Great job, pastor! And thanks Gabe.

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5 Responses to “Leave it to a pastor to write one of the best crisis response messages I’ve seen”


  1. Great post and yes the letter was not only humane but very very sophisticated in its approach to all concerned. Sounds like able leadership and glad to have one at a shelter which are very important especially now but perhaps a position with more clout to do more for others would be great. Gates Foundation better recruit this leadership potential because leadership nationwide in all callings is in short, very short supply. Happy Holidays and wishing more could be done for the HOMELESS!

  2. katelynmash Says:

    Yes, I agree his letter expressed his concern and most importantly: beat the media to the punch. I was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, which is the least churched city in the United States. However, church presence in Seattle has grown during the past couple years. I have noticed Mars Hill Church effectively uses social media including blogs, podcasts and forums.

  3. Peter Azimos Says:

    The letter by Reverend Rich Lang about the stabbing at the shelter inside Trinity United Methodist Church is a gold mine of lessons on how to defuse potentially explosive situations.

    Keep a copy in your bottom drawer.


  4. I’d counsel always speaking to a pro before installing cctv

  5. d.c Says:

    dear pastor,
    i am a 16 year old girl and in a relationship with a17 year old over a year now we both love each other and we never have sex and people keep telling us that we are too young to get involved but that cant keep us apart cause the bond is too strong but people keep pressuring us to separate.
    please give some fatherly advice should i leave or stay with him although he has done nothing wrong.


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